Part of what makes working in the SaaS industry so exciting is how quickly the technology and market change. And, it’s not just the software that’s evolving. The way SaaS marketers get their technology solutions into the hands of their audiences is evolving, too; and companies need to adapt quickly if they don’t want to get lost in the shuffle. Dave Gerhardt has spent the last five years in the trenches, helping Constant Contact, Privy, and HubSpot navigate this marketing evolution. Today, he is the Marketing Lead at Drift – a messaging app that makes it easier for businesses to talk to their website visitors and customers, which in turn helps these businesses generate more leads, learn about their customers, and deliver an enhanced customer experience – and he’s definitely ahead of the curve when it comes to building successful launches that use non-traditional strategies to reach the right audience.
How to Build a Successful Product Launch: Go Where The People Are
In the past, SaaS product launches were typically led by PR campaigns that ran through traditional media. Marketers primarily relied on a limited number of outlets, old-school press releases, and an address book filled with journalists to garner attention. Today, the tired PR game is losing ground to a new approach that uses an entirely new kind of network – the influencer network. Gerhardt focused on the influencer effect as he prepared to launch Drift 2.0, a release that was a challenge to promote since people could easily consider it more of an update than a new product launch.
One of the key tactics Gerhardt used to hit the Drift 2.0 launch out of the park was a site called Product Hunt. Product Hunt bills itself as a place where product-loving enthusiasts share and geek out about the latest mobile apps, websites, hardware projects, and tech creations. As Gerhardt had guessed, it’s also a great place for companies to launch influencer-driven lead generation campaigns.
“One of the reasons Product Hunt is so powerful is because it’s used by such an influential group of people,” Gerhardt says, noting that even bigger B2B companies should think about using it to reach their audiences. “All the early adopters — the people Seth Godin calls ‘sneezers’ — are there, and those are the people you want talking about your product,” he explains. “A hundred signups from Product Hunt are super valuable on launch day because those people are more likely to have bigger online followings. They might be journalists, bloggers, or just generally influential, but getting them in your product — even just for free to play around and show your stuff off a little bit — can give you a huge boost.”
In addition to being a place where all the cool kids hang out, Product Hunt provides an efficient and effective way for those cool kids to share their favorite finds directly to people’s inboxes. Each time a new product is posted, Product Hunt automatically generates an email that gets delivered to everyone following the person who published the post. So, if someone with a large Product Hunt following posts your product … you can see where this is going.
Based on his successful experience launching Drift 2.0 on Product Hunt, Gerhardt offers up some solid, actionable tips on how to use the platform to rock your launch:
Find Your Influencers
“The number one thing you need is an influencer who will post for you,” Gerhardt says. “We’re lucky to have Hiten Shah as an advisor. He has a big online following, especially in the SaaS/Product Hunt crowd, but even if you don’t have that kind of influencer on your team, you can still use this strategy. Product Hunt is actually what traditional press used to be. Now, instead of trying to find a reporter, you’ve got to find your influencer.”
Gerhardt recommends creating a target list of about ten influencers who are relevant in your space and active on Product Hunt. “You need to find people who are actively posting,” he adds. “It won’t do you any good to connect with someone who is influential, but not posting on the platform. My advice to other companies is to dig through the small circle of people posting on Product Hunt and find people who are a good fit. Bonus tip: Don’t overlook people who have posted about your competitors.”
Nail Your Outreach
Just as with pitching traditional journalists, your outreach to influencers needs to have a great “hook.” For starters, make sure you’re launching something that people care about. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a big company or a small company,” Gerhardt warns, “you can’t just say, ‘Hey, we changed the color of our brand to dark blue.’ No one will care.”
Once you have your story, focus on presentation details like setting up a comprehensive and engaging landing page to share with your target influencer and traditional journalists. Even if you’re focusing most of your efforts on an influencer platform like Product Hunt, conventional PR still has a part to play. For the Drift 2.0 campaign, Gerhardt emailed a number of media outlets about the upcoming launch. (Read on to see how he made that email do double duty.)
Have Your Influencer Post
“We sent the landing page and additional product shots over to Hiten along with a little blurb because the key is to not to just have an influencer post it, but to have them contribute the first comment,” Gerhardt says. “While you don’t want to be overly promotional, you should provide the influencer with as much context as possible. It makes it easier for them to say something nice about the product and why it’s interesting.”
For Drift 2.0, Shah posted on Product Hunt early EST on the morning of launch day. “Within the first two hours, we had about ten comments and twenty to thirty upvotes,” Gerhardt recalls. “One unexpected thing that helped is the fact that we posted so early (7 A.M. EST). Most of the Product Hunt audience is on the west coast, so there weren’t a lot of products being posted that early in the morning. As a result, we were able to land on the homepage as the number one product.”
Email Your List
This prominent homepage placement was critical to Drift’s success because the platform does not allow posters to send direct Product Hunt URLs via email. If mass emailing a Product Hunt link was possible, that would make it too easy for people to game the system, and the company with the biggest email list would always come out on top after soliciting their audience for upvotes. However, because Drift earned a spot on the Product Hunt homepage, Gerhardt was able to direct people there to upvote his product. “The second we saw our post get to the top of the home page, we sent an email to our list,” Gerhardt explains. “We told them we’d launched Drift 2.0, shared our blog post, and invited them to head to Product Hunt and throw us an upvote. The timing was super important and saved us a ton of praying and hoping that our audience would happen to go to the site and upvote.”
Get Everyone Involved
“The other thing we did that was unique was we added our entire product and design team as ‘makers’ on Product Hunt,” Gerhardt says. “We’re a small company, so this was only ten people, but this made it possible for every person at our company to chime in and answer questions on the Product Hunt thread.” Not only did this strategy increase engagement, but it also enabled the team to provide detailed responses to specific questions. “If someone asked about the design, one of our developers hopped in. If someone asked a technical question, one of our engineers would answer,” Gerhardt says. “And if someone asked a more strategic question, our CEO would respond.”
Circle Back to Traditional Media
“Midway through the day, when we probably had more than 500 upvotes and were the number one product in tech on Product Hunt, I used that as a hook to go back out to the press,” Gerhardt says. “I let them know that the product I’d emailed about earlier that morning was now number one and was obviously something that was getting people’s attention, and then asked if they wanted to have a conversation.” So, while Product Hunt definitely played a central role in the launch strategy, it also integrated nicely with traditional PR by giving Gerhardt valuable social proof that helped generate interest and land interviews.
Using this Product Hunt strategy, Gerhardt and his team landed nearly 800 new sign ups in only a few hours and 6,500 unique visitors the two days following their launch on the site, more than half of which came directly from Product Hunt. When you see it laid out in steps, it doesn’t really seem like rocket science. It just makes sense to promote your launch in a place where your audience is already looking for the latest, greatest finds by tuning in to hear from influencers they respect. Combine that platform with a great story “hook,” the full engagement of your team in the conversation, and smart integration with your email and traditional PR tactics, and how could you not nail it?